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Over the years I’ve reviewed a lot of computer-based phonics programs for kids, but I’ve never seen one specifically designed for children with dyslexia until now. Nessy comes from England and bills itself as “Everything you need to help children with dyslexia and reading disabilities.” A subscription for one student costs $10 a month or $100 a year. That’s significantly cheaper than a private dyslexia tutor, but slightly more expensive than programs such as Reading Eggs or Starfall.
Three big questions in my mind when I bought a Nessy subscription several weeks ago were 1) How is Nessy different from other computerized phonics programs? 2) Is it worth the time and money? and #3) What should parents know about Nessy?
#1 How is Nessy different from other computerized phonics program?
If you want to read the official list describing the fundamentals of Nessy, click here to go to the company website. My observations are not nearly as scientific. I’m telling you what I see as former K-4 teacher.
Nessy is slower and more systematic than other programs I’ve reviewed. It introduces sight-words in a way that is more user-friendly for kids with dyslexia. If a kid is learning the “th” sound for example, all the games are about the “th” sound. It doesn’t switch from “th” to sight-words, to review, to “ch,” to something else, and so on. Instead, it’s “th,” “th,” “th,” “th,” until the kids really understands.
My familiarity with the homeschooling program All About Reading which is based on the principles of Orton-Gillingham immediately helped me see that Nessy is also based on the principles of Orton-Gillingham. In fact, the student I am tutoring is working on the same phonemes in both AAR and Nessy. The embedded assessments in Nessy aligned perfectly with AAR. Both programs said she was at the same level of phoneme development. (Full disclaimer, I am an AAR affiliate.)
#2 Is Nessy worth the time and money?
Yes! A resounding Yes! The child I’m working with loves Nessy. She was hitting the wall with other computer games we tried. Nessy seems to make sense to her, and for that I’m really grateful. We are using Nessy in conjunction with All About Reading and All About Spelling. Nessy is not the only intervention happening, but it is one significant piece.
I also think Nessy would be good for children who do not yet have an official diagnosis of dyslexia. The wait to get assessed can take months if not years. In the meantime, kids could be doing Nessy just in case. Neurytypical kids would probably benefit too.
#3 What should parents know about Nessy?
When Nessy works, it really, really works well. But sometimes, there will be technical glitches.
It’s important to go into the settings and choose your location and the type of English you want. For me, that meant USA with an American accent. If you don’t do this, the loading time will be way too slow. Plus the accent could confuse your student.
We’ve experienced loading differences on the computer versus the iPad. On the computer, sometimes the videos are blocked by “loading” symbols. On the iPad, the sound occasionally cuts out, and I have to turn the game off and bring it back on again.
The glitches can be frustrating, but not enough to outweigh all of the benefits.
My experience with Nessy revolves around a first grader, who seems to be the perfect age for this program. They say it’s suitable for 5-12 years of age, but fourth graders on up might think Nessy is babyish. That’s not to say a nine year old wouldn’t learn a lot from Nessy, just that it doesn’t have a cool “tween” vibe.
As an Afterschooling program, Nessy is an excellent supplement to other dyslexia interventions already in place.
For more information please visit their website at: http://www.nessy.com/us/
In the past two weeks, Jenna has made mind-blowing progress in her RUN, BUG, RUN! reader. I need to buy more star stickers!
Most of these stories are at a Guided Reading level of A or B, but a few of them, like “Get the Moth, Meg” and “The Sad Hog,” are at level C or perhaps D.
I apologize for sounding like I’ve drunk the All About Learning Kool-aid, (full disclosure: I am an affiliate), but committing to our All About Spelling materials twenty minutes a day has really made a difference.
As a former K-4 teacher, I’m still scratching my head about what’s going on. I’ve taught Jenna phonics since she was two years old. We’ve done multisensory lessons up the wazoo. (For a list of everything I’ve tried, click here.) All of my methods worked with Jenna…up to a point. Then she got glasses, which made a big difference.
Now, my daughter is presenting me with the opportunity of becoming a better teacher.
With my son Bruce, I could teach him a spelling pattern like “th,” “sh,” or “ch” and he could generalize that out to basically every word in existence. We could practice with 10 words, and he would be able to read 100.
With Jenna, I’ve discovered I need to explicitly teach all 10o words. Not only that, but it makes a big difference how I teach the words.
Flashcards are the least effective way for Jenna to learn new words.
Multisensory activities are a lot better.
Dictation helps too. She has exceptionally strong auditory skills, and can almost always sound out words properly–even though her handwriting is the subject of another post. In this picture, we are using raised lined paper and that helps a bit.
Too many words doesn’t help. Jenna does better when she can learn words one at a time. Then, if you present her with text where she knows almost all the words, she will be successful.
By the time Jenna has spelled out a word with tiles, and then written it down on paper, she does fine with the flash card version. When she encounters this word in text, she can sound it out.
Another thing that is really helping is the reading focus cards. I’m not sure if reduces eye-strain, improves tracking or what. But for Jenna, they were really worth purchasing and a lot better than the homemade versions I had used with her previously.
My homemade reading windows didn’t have colored film, plus the scalloped edges were probably distracting. For Jenna, they didn’t work very well, although I’ve had them work beautifully for other students.
As a mom, I have 900 kid commitments I’m responsible for right now. As a writer I have a book coming out next year and a sequel following. As a newspaper columnist, I have a deadline every week. So unfortunately, tinkering with my blog is low on the list of my priorities.
Ideally however, I should go back through all my old posts and tag them as “visual,” “auditory,” or “kinesthetic.” I would also go through my main list of ideas and organize them differently. I think Jenna would have had more success earlier if I could have pinpointed her best-practices-learning-path. “If your child is a visual learner, start here.” “If your child is an auditory learner, this page is for you.” etc.
In the meantime, here’s a very cool visual from All About Learning.
A dollar’s worth of pipe cleaners is all it takes to make phonics hands-on. Right now my daughter Jenna(4) has been having fun building words from Bob Books.
We don’t build all of the words from each book, but one or two seems to be doing the trick. It’s an easy way to pre-teach new words.
For more ideas about Bob Books please click here.
Here’s a not-so-perfect idea to make Bob Books, Set 1 more exciting. Pick up a tub of Cinnamon Schoolbook Cookies from Trader Joe’s, and practice making words with cookies before your child even opens the book.
Why is this idea not-so-perfect? There’re several reasons:
- The cookies are uppercase.
- They’re not enough vowels.
- You have to be very careful with cookie management.
I tried to solve #1 and #2 by using an M, and turning it on its side to become an e. I’m not exactly sure why I thought that would help. Sigh…
The great slog through Bob Books, Set 1
continues. Nobody promised these would be fun, right? I don’t know about you, but I could really give a rip about Muff, Ruff, and the 10 Cut Ups.
But I can handle 5-7 minutes a day of reading Bob Books, and so can my daughter. Be tough, Muff and Ruff!
A learning tool I introduced to Jenna(4) today was her brand new reading window wand.
This is a classic Kindergarten teacher trick. Grab a popsicle stick, cut out a piece of paper, use some glitter; whatever. The most important thing is to make a window with clear masking tape.
For some reason the “window” is what makes these so exciting to children.
You could also jazz things up further by making a bunch of reading window wands that all looked different. Then, every morning you could let your child choose which wand to use that day.
Using a reading window wand allows children to isolate words, which helps some brains concentrate better.
In Jenna’s case, she can concentrate just fine. In fact, her concentration abilities are working against her decoding skills because Jenna relies a lot on picture cues and sentence patterns to help her read.
My teacher credentialing program was grounded in Balanced Literacy Instruction. That means taking the best of Whole Language and Phonics, smashing them together, and teaching kids to read. (If you’re interested in more info about Balanced Literacy Instruction, click here.)
I like Balanced Literacy Instruction because I’m a big believer in flexibility. Yes, I love phonics. Yes, my kids have known their letters and sounds since they were two. But that doesn’t mean that Whole Language doesn’t have some tricks to offer.
One of those ideas from the Whole Language world is to label everything (and I mean everything!) in your classroom.
So I was thinking, why not try this at home?
My daughter Jenna is 4 years old now and can read Bob Books #1-3 on her own independently. But by book #4, she’s bored.
I don’t push her. Jenna will tell me when she’s ready to read.
But in the meantime, I can be as sneaky as I want. She might come home from a Grandma day and find the whole house labeled for her!
So come on baby girl! I’ve still got a few tricks up my sleeve that might pique your interest in becoming an independent reader. It’s a long way to Kindergarten and I’ve got a whole bunch of fun things planned.
- Reflections on Balanced Literacy (insidetheclassroomoutsidethebox.wordpress.com)
When your child is in the crucial stage between knowing her sounds and being able to make the cognitive jump and start sounding out consonant vowel consonant (CVC) words, one of the easiest things you can do to help is make CVC Flip Books.
They’re free, easy, and fun.
(Okay, they’re only kind-of fun. Just be sure to keep the activity to five minutes or less.)
Here’s an example of CVC flip book I made last year, which has been one of my most popular Pinterest pins ever:
When I was a teacher, I made flip books for students all the way up to third grade. They can become increasingly more complex as you go along.
If you are working with a really young learner like Jenna, make sure to write everything in lower case letters except for B/D/P/and Q. Those letters are really confusing in lower case form.
Last year I made a game for my daughter called Put Your Socks and Shoes On. It’s sooo easy to replicate, because all you need is construction paper and a pen.
Yesterday we brought the game out again and I’m happy to report that Jenna (3.5) was pretty much able to crush it.
The really exciting thing is that she can now say “J-am JAM!” and “S-am SAM!” instead of sounding out every single letter. That got me to thinking about:
When you don’t want kids to sound something out!
It’s really tricky. Teachers and parents give kids inordinate amounts of praise for sounding out letters. Thats good! (I’m not saying that’s bad.) But then it gets to the point where you want kids to stop sounding out every letter, and start reading the word for Pete’s sake!
That transition can be rather tricky.
Here are some tips to make that easier:
- Stop praising your child for sounding out every letter.
- Ask “Can you read that faster?”
- Use a visual to show the relationship between word families, and present that visual super fast. (See below.)
Kids with strong phonemic awareness to begin with, will make this transition faster. So try to incorporate rhyming as much as possible in the rest of your day.
Make your kid think you are just being goofy all the time. “We’re getting into the car/jar/tar/. We’re driving to the store/bore/tore. I’m making dinner/blinner/zinner.”
You can teach reading, when you aren’t even teaching reading!
Then when you come back to a game like this, your little reader will be ready to crush it too.
“When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking.”
My daughter Jenna (3.5) has been watching a lot of Talking Words Factory 2, Code Word Caper. So now I’m trying to incorporate some mini-lessons about the way silent E works into our everyday fun time.
Sometimes, on-the-fly phonics lessons can be really effective. One minute you’re doodling, the next minute you slip some reading in there before your kid can say “Pass me the crayon”.
Yes, I’m a sneaky mom!
That’s one one of my blog’s original posts almost two years ago. Back then, my son Bruce was in Kindergarten independently cranking through Magic Tree House books. Part of that success was due to his solid understanding of phonics, and the confidence he gained by reading Bob Books, by Bobby Lynn Maslen.
It’s not rocket science; it’s just phonics.
Fast forward to the present and my daughter Jenna is now 3.5 and beginning her own Bob Books adventure. The original games I made for her brother are a bit dog-eared, but sill in working order.
This is how they work:
This is the envelope I made to go with Set 1, Book 8, Muff and Ruff. Inside the envelope are all of the letters you need to make every word in the book. Vowels get their own color. The sight-word “for” gets its own color too.
The envelope is not a game piece! It is just to remind me of the words my daughter needs to spell.
This is how you play:
Find the letter that says “ttttt”.
Find the letter that says “uh”.
Find the letter that says “gggg”.
Put them together “t-u-g”.
What does that spell?
We do this for each word on the list. Once I know that my daughter can read all of the words from the story, then we get out the book.
I’m showing envelope #8 here because that was the cleanest. (I did say they were a bit dog-eared, right?) But right now, Jenna is still on book #4.
Here’s where it gets really interesting.
On the back of some of the envelopes I wrote when Bruce had read each book!
I know it’s wrong to compare your children, but I’m finding this really fascinating. This tells me that Bruce read book #6 when he had just turned four years old. Meaning, he and his sister are roughly on the same track, even though they keep reaching different milestones at different points.
This is important information, because it shows me that my methods are working!
Yeah for Bob Books!
Here’s a easy idea to recreate. Jenna(3) has know all of her letters and sounds for over a year, but is just not ready to blend three letter words yet. Finally, I realized “Duh! Why not try teaching her to blend two letter words first?” I don’t know why I didn’t think of this earlier!!!
Anyhow, Jenna loves cupcakes and she loves pink and purple. So here you go. This game should be good for five minutes of fun, a few times a week.
Here’s another fun game to try: Put your socks and shoes on.
I have always said that Bob Books are boring but brilliant. They worked like a charm with my son Bruce when he was three and four years old. While attempting to introduce set 1, book 1 of the Bob Books to Jenna(3) however, I just felt like I needed something more “princess-y” to grab her attention. So I got out some paper and crayons while she was taking a nap the other day, and tried to see if I could come up with something pinker. Princess Pat books were born.
Admittedly I am THE WORST ARTIST EVER! By sharing this, I’m exposing myself to PUBLIC HUMILIATION! But since the mission of my blog is to help you ensure that your child is academically advantaged regardless of age, ability, or socio-economic level, I figured that I ought to post this latest endeavor. When I’m done with my Princess Pat books, I’ll have created a free set of easy phonics readers for you to print out on cardstock.
Of course, if anyone would like to take pity on me and actually draw some real pictures for this project, please email me jpgegs at: teachingmybabytoread at gmail dot com. 🙂
Princess Pat Book #4
Here’s a fun activity to do with your 2, 3, or 4 year old that is free, builds fine motor skills, and works on phonics all at the same time. Draw a letter V on a piece of paper. Then have your child cover the V with old stickers that have been floating around your house for a while.
When you are finished, tape the V to your vacuum. Don’t forget to make a lot of “Vroom-Vroom” sounds; the more histrionics the better. Very Pretty! Very loud! Vroooooooooom!
You could do this type of activity with any letter your child is currently working on. I chose the letter V because it’s one of the letters Jenna(2.5) still needs to check off her chart for All About Spelling Level 1, Step one.
This is what her chart looks like right now at 34 months. AAS has children learn multiple sounds for certain letters like A, E, I, O, U, Y, S etc. so that’s why it’s taking Jenna a while to complete the chart. By Leap Frog standards, she has known all of her letters and sounds for a while. If this chart was in upper case, and I was just asking for one sound per letter, it would have been completed months ago.
Another problem with our progress is that I’ve been a total slacker. We haven’t done our four cards a day in weeks! So, to help Jenna finish off these last sounds, I’m going to concentrate on one letter every few days. At least that’s the plan. 😉
As a douceur to convince Jenna(31m) to start blending C-V-C words, I’ve cracked open my wallet and loaded Preschool Prep’s “Meet the Phonics: Letter Sounds” onto Bruce’s Kindle Fire. Let me tell you, as somebody who has turned green from watching Leap Frog videos about 100 times, and who can sing the “Rusty and Rosie” songs by heart, “Meet the Phonics” is a nice change of pace!
That being said, I don’t think that “Meet the Phonics” would make the best starter video for a young learner because it introduces a lot of information very quickly. Conceptually, “Meet the Phonics” teaches material covered in Leap Frog’s “Letter Factory”, “Talking Words Factory”, and “Talking Words Factor Two”, all put together.
What is really interesting to me as a parent, is right in the middle of “Meet the Phonics” when they start showing a slot machine that blends C-V-C words, Jenna starts to immediately lose interest and starts wildly touching the screen trying to change the Kindle over to something else. This is proof yet again that she is still not ready to blend…
I think my new preferred order for introducing letter and phonics sounds to young children through videos, starting at 18 months and going in three week intervals, would go like this:
- Rusty and Rosie’s ABCs and Such
- Rusty and Rosie’s Letter Sound Songs
- Leap Frog’s Letter Factory
- Leap Frog’s Phonics Farm (egad, it’s boring!)
- Leap Frog’s Talking Word’s Factory
- Meet the Phonics: Letter Sounds
- Talking Words Factory Two, Code Word Caper
For Bruce(6.5), the videos that made the most difference were “Rusty and Rosie Letter Sound Songs”, and “Talking Words Factory #1 and #2”. Jenna on the other hand, has responded the most to the “Letter Factory” . So I think it is worth trying all of these videos out, if you can get them at your local library for free.